Reggae has a beat that calls to most of us. Perhaps it would not have become as popular and cemented in
The beat pervades the atmosphere and sounds around the world. Drummers surrounded by equipment, listeners using their hands and lightly slapping desks, CEOs with toes tapping against floors and drivers using their fingers against the steering wheel in the pattern feel the spirit of reggae. A vigorous, intense rhythm in Reggae exemplifies that found in African music, although missing from Asian and European music. Take the standard 4/4 beat and visualize the waltz. Steps 2 and 4 have backbeat flair. Step 3 packs a punch with a kick. In the case of Reggae drummers, it is a kick to the bass drum.
Bob Marley was just another young man in the Jamaican ghetto who felt the music pouring forth from the radio. Tradition was in a state of flux in the 1960s and 1970s and authority challenged by many young people. Ska and rock steady inspired growth to the development of reggae and its universal acceptance, but it took years to reach that pinnacle. If Marley had been born even a decade earlier, a swift silence would have occurred. Instead, his beliefs and practices were common to that of others in his age group, a strong vocal concentration of world citizens embarked on a voyage towards change.
The future of Jamaica and her citizens stirred the creative caliber in Marley’s music. Political unrest received recognition through the message of his music. Rock and roll, developing a culture of its own, fit into his incredible talent in writing and performing music. Two albums by Bob Marley and The Wailers pushed the group from local popularity to international acknowledgment. Catch a Fire, released in 1972, was quickly followed by Burnin’ in 1973, which included the song “I Shot the Sheriff.” Eric Clapton recorded and released the song in 1974 resulting in a number one hit and more focus on Marley. The band changed shortly after and his wife Rita stepped in with her band to keep the music flowing. Natty Dread, released in 1975, was the group’s first album to hit the US charts. Believed by many to be his best album, Legend defined rebellion mixed with hope, stressing the slower, yet insistent reggae beat.
It was time to think of the value of human beings. Rather than senseless killing, a plea for all to talk, discuss and think went forth. Again, the use of marijuana, part of his religious beliefs as a Rastafarian, was widely accepted among those in his generation. Whether or not it enhanced his enlightenment is irrelevant. The fact is that he believed religion had an important place in politics and interaction with one another. He was extremely vocal about the need for Jamaican leaders to work towards a solid Jamaica, not just their own desires. Weapons resolved conflict and he was aware of his own danger because of his following. Much of his music described the hardship of life under Jamaican politics. In an attempt to stop a concert scheduled to follow a political rally in Kingston, an assassination attempt occurred December 3, 1976 on Marley, Rita and the band mangers. Shot twice, Marley and the band performed the concert on the scheduled date of December 5. Marley, his family and the band left for England after the concert. His songs, such as “No Woman, No Cry” and “Redemption Song” continued to remind the world that political and cultural controversy still reigned around the world and in his homeland.
In 1976, Rolling Stone magazine honored Bob Marley & The Wailers as Band of the Year. Marley received the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations in June 1978. February 1981 saw Marley receive Jamaica’s third highest honor, the Jamaican Order of Merit. Gone too soon, Marley died at age 36 from cancer on the way home to Jamaica, the homeland he loved and continued to urge forward to a better life. One of his statements describes the purpose of his music, “Every song is a sign.” In his eulogy May 21, 1981, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga remarked on Marley being an experience. A tribute written by singer and songwriter Robert Palmer in 1984 for Marley’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction recognized his musical legacy and social impact.